I was more than happy to converse with Aase Astri Bakka of Farsunds Avis about Thomas Commeraw and my thoughts on the recovery; her article on the dive team’s discovery was published last week. Since most of you, like me, probably are not able to read Norwegian, Google Translate can create a roughly translated version on the fly. That English version is available here, and you can find the original Norwegian version here.
I am not, of course, sure what Commeraw’s jug was doing all the way over in Norway. I am essentially certain that it was either some passenger’s personal vessel or part of a larger shipment of liquor. While this would be an interesting topic of study that begs to be investigated, I am unaware of any instances in which the American stoneware potters were shipping their ware as a primary product across the Atlantic. They definitely could and would ship their items great distances within the United States, and their products certainly were used to help transport any number of consumable goods from our country to others. But as a houseware, I simply have never seen–in my own research or someone else’s–an instance in which, say, Clarkson Crolius was shipping stoneware across the ocean for use in another country.
The jug itself seems to be one of the smaller examples I have seen. Further photographs and measurements will give me a better idea, but the size of the maker’s mark on the vessel–and the fact that Commeraw apparently could only fit one of his double swag designs (sometimes called “clamshells”) beneath the rim–both tell me that this was an unusually small vessel for Commeraw’s work.
I am excited to discuss this in the book, and I think a lot of you will be as interested as I was to see an example of early New York City stoneware not only end up in the waters off of Norway–but find its way back to the land of the living, two centuries later.
Lager was not really available in the United States until around 1840; some speculate that its relatively late introduction into American homes and pubs was due to the difficulty of transporting its yeast across the Atlantic. The first known American lager brewery was located in Philadelphia, where a Bavarian immigrant (like Seithers) named Johann Wagner successfully managed to get his yeast over from Germany. Initially popular in German communities, lager spread nationally and by the late 1850′s, it was a bigger seller than either ale or porter in Philadelphia. Charles Seithers’ business came as a direct result of this booming new beer industry, and he shows up around the middle of the 1870′s–about the time Radley made his mug–as a lager dealer, perhaps even a brewer.How Aaron Radley knew Charles Seithers–or if they were even friends or close associates–is a question I cannot answer. But based on the fact that his mug was specifically, boldly inscribed to Seithers (and hand inscribed on the bottom by Radley), the mug was pretty clearly a presentation piece, and probably made as a gift from Radley to Seithers–as is the case with other comparable pieces of American stoneware. This puts Radley’s mug in a fairly rare category. We can call it so for a number of reasons–the fairly rare form for decorated stoneware; the almost unheard-of decoration of the Liberty Bell; its signature from a previously unknown Philadelphia potter. But as a vessel apparently used specifically for the consumption of lager, unlike so many of the jugs and other vessels made for ambiguous spirituous (or other) liquids, we more or less know exactly what the mug held on a regular basis. By 1877, Patrick McCusker had left Radley’s firm, and it took on the name of “Salinger & Radley.” By the end of the decade this partnership, too, seems to have dissolved and Radley was out on his own. In his later years (around 1885, when he was about 57 years old), he became a grocer and, eventually, a jeweler, maintaining that profession into his 80′s. Aaron Radley died on Halloween, 1914, of some form of pneumonia. Seithers had died a decade prior, on March 8, 1904, of kidney failure at the age of 65. He, too, had given up his profession of the mid-1870′s, and had moved on to barbering. In Radley’s obituary, those memorializing him called him, “one of the oldest residents of Frankford … who opened the first China and glassware house in that section of the city.” I have been unable to find any reference (though one certainly may exist) to Radley owning a merchant’s shop, selling china or glass, and I believe this is probably the case of time or miscommunication getting in the way of the facts. The writer was probably really referring to Radley’s old pottery.
This is yet another case in which two men who may not even be remembered by their own families today, are memorialized by just one object that happened to survive. Aaron Radley probably made thousands of pots in his lifetime; Seithers likewise would have owned countless objects over the course of his life. But this mug, probably produced in the spirit of giving, now gives us another opportunity to peer dimly into the past.
A Note About Sources: As can probably be gleaned from the text, I used applicable Philadelphia city directories, newspapers, and death records, as well as federal census listings for the bulk of my research. For secondary, modern sources, (as noted in the text) I used Broderick & Bouck’s Pottery Works …; for the section on lager, I used Mark A. Noon’s Yuengling: A History of America’s Oldest Brewery heavily.
Richard Butt’s stoneware is the most famous of all that made in our nation’s capital, his fairly scarce maker’s mark being the most commonly seen on stoneware produced there. Butt was born into a prominent Montgomery County, Maryland, family and there have been, previously, no real indications that he was a potter. Around 1826, he purchased the earthenware pottery of a virtually unknown local potter named Whitson Canby. Referred to at least in a loose sense as the “Fair-Hill Manufactory” after a nearby home of the same name, apocryphal stories circulating in newspaper articles dating back to the 1940′s tell of eight families of Irish pottery workers who Canby housed in Fair Hill; the ghost of a potter who supposedly hanged himself in the basement was said to haunt the premises prior to it burning to the ground in 1977. (This fact, along with some other interesting tidbits, had to be cut from my article due to necessary space constraints. I hope at some point to put more of my information “out there” in one form or another.)
Earlier in the decade, Butt had run for sheriff in the county, and had also served as deputy sheriff. By around 1830, he moved down into Washington, D.C., and was not only operating a pottery there, but was soon also superintending the Washington Asylum (the local poorhouse)–a job he continued to undertake until 1847, when he was removed for malfeasance. (That saga could constitute a fairly lengthy article in itself.) He also seems to have continued his association with local law enforcement for most of his life; in 1850 he was a participant in the virtually forgotten but nationally scandalized Chaplin affair, in which he and others prevented a local abolitionist from ferrying two runaway slaves into Maryland; Butt was wounded in that altercation. In 1863, President Lincoln appointed him Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
Butt turned his pottery over to prolific potter Enoch Burnett around the mid-1840′s, and there is no evidence that he continued any association with the pottery business after that time. In the 1860 census, he shows up as a “Gardener + Toll-Gatherer,” indicating that he was primarily a farmer at this point. But perhaps more importantly, that listing, combined with the rest of his history, shows what was a tendency on Butt’s part to gravitate toward bureaucracy and local government affairs. To make what could be a long story short, quite simply, I have believed for a long time that Butt was basically a merchant-type figure who owned his pottery shops as either a primary income source or perhaps a way to supplement his income. Hugh C. Smith (in nearby Alexandria) and Henry Myers (up the road in Baltimore) are two very good examples of comparable merchant figures who paid potters to make their ware.
We know that one of Butt’s potters was John Walker–until the publication of my aforementioned article, a potter of completely unknown origin, who seemed to have potted briefly in Washington and then fallen off the face of the earth. In actuality, Walker was an English-born salt-glazed stoneware potter who ended up moving down to Kentucky after working in D.C. The work, though, at Butt’s shop is inconsistent in the way that would be expected for a merchant enterprise, where various master potters were superintending the shop.
All of this being said, I have recently come across some interesting information that suggests that Butt may have been, after all, a potter. If he was, I believe he was not a particularly skilled one, probably, and based on his other duties, was probably quick to let other potters perform the bulk of the work for him.The first piece of evidence I located was a copy of an 1862 petition Butt submitted to the federal government, asking for around $1800 in compensation for slaves he had owned that had been freed under the D.C. Emancipation Act. This petition included two signatures of Richard Butt, and I can’t help but think they bear a striking resemblance to the two “R. Butt” inscriptions on the jar we sold in July 2008. At the time, we firmly believed that while the jar was made at one of Butt’s potteries (probably the Montgomery County one), it was merely inscribed by a potter in the manner of his apparently later maker’s marks–not by Butt himself. If the ink and cobalt signatures could be determined to match, I would say that would amount to essentially conclusive evidence that Butt was a potter. The second is a real estate advertisement Butt placed in a D.C. newspaper in 1829, which begged, “For further particulars inquire of Mr. Richard Butt, Stone Potter, on 7th Street.” I do not discount the fact that at times pottery owners who were not actually potters were called so in certain period documents, but they would have been done so almost exclusively by third parties who were misspeaking. In this case, Butt himself ran the ad, but whether or not he actually wrote the advertising copy is a question I cannot answer. While, regardless, this does move the scale somewhat in favor of Butt himself being a potter, if Butt penned the words I quoted above, I would say he was, in fact, a bona fide potter. Washington, D.C. stoneware is a topic I have spent a long time researching, and one that has been very difficult to crack. All the hours my brother, Mark, and I spent at the MLK Memorial Library–just around the corner from Butt’s pottery–are a testament to that, and it still took me years to break down some of the brick walls that enabled me to eventually write my article. Even today, composing this brief article, I came into its writing still unsure whether Richard Butt was a potter or simply a businessman; however, looking over the signatures, rereading the real estate ad, I can’t help but think that Richard Butt was probably, in actuality, a potter. If so, as I said above, he probably was quick to let others work for him, turning his interests to other pursuits. The sole jar that could, in this case, be attributed to Butt himself, was not particularly finely thrown, and bears a decoration not really seen on other area pottery. As with all of my various research pursuits, I will eagerly continue to try to flesh out the story of the potters of our nation’s capital–and hopefully this question, along with others, will eventually find its resolution.
We recently shot several more stoneware-related videos, and here are four of Mark discussing some rare examples. This is something we now plan to make a regular part of our website, and are really enjoying being able to add this kind of content to the internet. With that in mind, we have added a new page to CrockerFarm.com, where all of our videos are available the instant they are added to YouTube: www.crockerfarm.com/videos/
Thank you for your positive feedback about this latest addition to our website!
Mark talks about the unheard-of Bell family (Shenandoah Valley of Virginia) stoneware face pitcher.
Mark discusses “People” crocks of West Virginia and Southwestern PA in general, but specifically the two examples we will be selling on March 3, 2012.
Mark discusses the small-sized, four-handled stoneware jug (New York State origin) we are selling on March 3.
Still on the topic of New York State stoneware, Mark talks about the profusely decorated presentation flower pot / urn made by William Warner in West Troy, NY.
We shot and uploaded several new stoneware-related videos this week. We really enjoy talking about American stoneware and redware, and hope this is another good way to share that with you.
Luke discusses David Parr, one of the most influential American stoneware potters, and one Luke has spent a ton of time researching. Not ten years ago, Parr’s work was routinely attributed to some anonymous Pennsylvania potter, and anyone walking through an antiques show, shop, etc. would see tags hanging from his pots with no attribution to the man who made them. Today, these same pieces are, with frequency, accurately attributed as Baltimore pottery, and it was solely Luke’s careful work that has enabled that to happen. Here he discusses two significant Parr examples we will be selling on March 3, including the only known signed example of Parr’s work.
Brandt talks about the Philadelphia stoneware Liberty Bell mug, and the basically unknown potter who made it. Brandt’s in-depth article on the subject will be posted soon.
Luke talks about the ornate Remmey bird bank (includes an interesting, detailed period drawing of the Philadelphia Remmey shop in 1877.)
Brandt talks about North Carolina redware potter Henry Watkins and his signed and dated jar. For more on Watkins, see Turners and Burners by Charles Zug.
“The Arkansas Traveler” was painted by Arkansas artist Edward Payson Washbourne, who completed it circa 1856. It was rendered from a popular fiddle song written by Colonel Sandford C. Faulkner, probably based on an actual conversation he had with a country settler in 1840–and it plays off of an encounter between the sophisticated “Traveler” and the country “Squatter.” Popular prints were created from Washbourne’s original, including a version by Currier & Ives in 1870. The man on horseback, whom we had speculated may be a Union soldier, is Colonel Faulkner, who served in the Confederate army, including in command of the Little Rock Arsenal.“The Arkansas Traveler” became a ubiquitous pop culture image, particularly in reference to the State of Arkansas, where it became the state song from 1949 to 1963; it is now the state historical song. The song has been used in numerous cartoons and an Academy Award-winning Laurel & Hardy film. The Arkansas Travelers play Double-A baseball in Little Rock.
A version of Washbourne’s painting appeared at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, and the kind person who emailed us speculates that the stoneware version may have been made around that time, and based on Currier & Ives’ print.
To read more about “The Arkansas Traveler,” you can visit http://www.arkansas-traveler.org/.
The listing for the stoneware version our 10/29 auction is available here: http://www.crockerfarm.com/stoneware-auction/2011-10-29/lot-23/Extremely-Rare-and-Important-Stoneware-Log-Cabin-Group-probably-Anna-Pottery/
It is remarkable to view what is probably the Kirkpatrick Brothers’ stoneware take on this folk story, and we thought you might be interested to know where this image came from.
For some time now, we’ve been talking about adding video content to our website, highlighting certain stoneware pieces or otherwise discussing stoneware and redware in a way that goes beyond the printed word. This is our first foray into what we hope will be a continuously growing library of videos intending to educate and expand upon our catalogs, blog posts, and other content. We are still working out the kinks, playing around with different cameras, lighting, locations, etc., but we thought you might enjoy these first two videos that Mark, Luke, and I put together about some of the highlights of our October 29 auction:
(In Mark’s cabin video, you will hear him reference the famous Eberly log cabin groups. If you’ve never seen one, you can view the one that the Smithsonian owns at the following address: http://historywired.si.edu/object.cfm?ID=375.)
We hope you enjoy them!